Thursday, March 01, 2007

When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary

Originally posted at Blooming Yaya as part of the Blog Exchange; our assignment was to write about a song (or compose one of our own, as Bobita did).

Really – it’s a song. You can Google it.

Don’t most kids grow up singing goofy novelty tunes from 1911? No? Just me? Huh. You didn’t dance to this song at your wedding reception? Just me again?

You missed out. My dad is a musician—a banjo player and a singer—and this is one of my favorite songs from his exhaustive repertoire. Composed by a man named Lewis Muir (or maybe Edgar Leslie), it goes like this:

Old Parson Lee from Tennessee
In accents loud and clear
Said “Folks I’m awfully sorry
But our organist ain’t here.
I’d like to get someone to volunteer
To help us out”

Well a gal named Ragtime Rosie got up
And said that she could play
The Parson seemed delighted
And said “Just step this way.”
The congregation bowed their heads to pray
Then came a shout

When Ragtime Rosie ragged the rosary
Deacon Alexander started in to reprimand her
But he turned around only to see
That instead of prayin’ Rosie had the folks a-swayin’
That tune so sweet
Was such a treat
It charmed their feet and set them
Dancin’, prancin’
Ragtime two-step ‘til old Parson Lee
He forgot his sermon and began to squawk in German …

That’s from memory, but it checks out. This song was always a huge hit with me and my brother and sister when we were kids. It has a great beat, fun rhymes, and rags (har har) on how boring church can be. Perfect! (You can listen to a sample--look for Track 12. Disclaimer: Not my dad.)

As a child I thought it was cool that my dad was in a band and we could go see him perform (another of our favorite tunes was something called “Chili Bom Bom” because tee-hee! He said “bum”!). As an adult, I’m very proud of both his talent and his role in preserving an important piece of Americana: traditional jazz from the early 20th century. It goes way (way, way) beyond “When the Saints Go Marching In” and believe me, my dad has the LPs, CDs, and sheet music to prove it. He also has some pretty good stories. Here’s one from his site.

In 1963, we played at a joint on Chicago Ave., between State and Wabash. We had just finished playing the Saints as our closing number. A guy with a beret walked in and wanted us to play the Saints. Persuaded by the $50 tip, we played it again. Sometimes on Fridays (Saturday morning!) we would go down State St. and play for tips at a gin mill that was open until 5 a.m. We asked Freddy the Frenchman (as we quickly named the big tipper) to go with us.

We were driving down State and one of our guys asked Freddy what he did for a living. He said "I'm a professional thief" and pulled a pistol out from under his jacket! We told him we had changed our minds about playing more and dropped him off on a corner. We went on down to the club and started playing.

A little while later Freddy came in. He hung around while we nervously began to pack up. He said he didn't like the piano player (not one of our guys) and if he didn't stop playing he would shoot him! Our guys rapidly packed up and started to leave. I was the first one out the door! Freddy started shooting up the joint, grazed the piano player, and robbed the bartender. Two of our guys tackled Freddy as he left the bar and held him until the police arrived.

My dad’s not Catholic, but I’m pretty sure he was saying a few rosaries that night.

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